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EMINENT DOMAIN    -   1180 Easton Rd Roslyn
 The taking by our Township officials
of a resident's property

The lawsuit for the taking was relinquished by vote 5-12-11.  No sooner did they put this issue down then they attempted to obtain, with a portion of the leftover funds from this, the bank building across the street ......

5-12-11  A declaration of relinquishment  was before the Board  - (9 yes)(3 no  Kline, Schreiber & Benzak ) and (1 abstention. M O'Connor )  So the project will be dropped .  They had til May 22nd to decide - you have 2 years from the time if the "taking" to decide to relinquish your claim. The Eminent Domain process  on this property  has been in litigation for 2 years because the owner did not acquiesce.  Because the litigation can conceivably get drawn out for much longer  - and because the funds we had obtained may run out by then , or funds that also might be possible require firm deadlines for the start of the project, which can't be promised , it leaves the question of  funding completely  unclear .One Commissioner  asked  whether the solicitor had  moved the case along as quickly as it might have been .  The solicitor outlined the interminable process  of our legal system.  ( A process that needs serious change . It repeatedly   takes justice completely  out of the equation  and makes "running people out of money " an effective  tactic for winning.  So serious legal reform in our community , state and nation  is indeed another issue that challenges us ).The solicitor pointed out that even if you endure the costs etc , and prevail, that you still have to pay fair market value for the property .  A resident pointed out that the costs have already included those of a lawsuit for suppressing freedom of speech,  and that  our costs to get OUT of the eminent domain lawsuit will be in 6 figures  and that residents have been maligned in the process as well. That maligning represents another unacceptable cost of what our township considers acceptable procedure.
   It was also pointed out that there are other buildings exist in which to install a library - so it is not for want of a library that all of that is being done.  And if we are installing  library branches, mightn't they be farther than 1 mile away?   Or instead of a several million dollar process 1 mile away , perhaps many  small branches within walking distance of many neighborhoods would be a better way to spend the money. 

11-29-10  The request for the extension of the grant was not approved- what will happen now ? Is all that money that was spent out the window? stay tuned...

11-10  The cost of this is climbing and climbing - into the millions. And this at a time when crossing guards are being cut to trim the budget . But we seem to have unlimited funds for this pet project, no matter that flooding issues, road repairs etc have to be put aside and while residents continue to express concern at inadequate code enforcement measures that affect the quality of their lives and the latest measures approved in the same meeting that parents were turned down to have a crossing guard at a dangerous five-point intersection. At the 11-04-10 Board of Commissioners meeting (unlimited? ) funds to litigate were approved. Priority one, it seems.

Background :  In Roslyn on Easton Rd, a former carpet store has remained unrented for many (possibly over 20) years.  Residents would like to see a thriving commercial area.  Township officials in early 09 voted to take this property by Eminent Domain, against the wishes of the owner. There are mixed feeling about this issue - Residents would like  a nice new, bigger library facility and an arts and cultural center - and would like to see vacant stores be transformed. Many others have come to the podium to tell the Commissioners that the taking is wrong for so many reasons . There is the fact that properties are available for sale - so no "taking" is needed, the fact that one of the best township libraries in the USA is a mile away, that fact that other neighborhoods like Crestmont or McKinley might benefit from a small "walk to " facility " if funds are so plentiful and there is of course the fact that all the budget cuts  mean funds are NOT available .  

From the discussions I have had with residents,  few seem to know the real details of what is involved in the process of such a taking .       "Eminent domain" allows a property to be taken by a governmental  entity for certain purposes.  The governmental entity must reimburse what is determined to be the fair market value.  This is obviously a very simplified explanation.     The Township intends to create "The  Roslyn Arts and Library Center" with this property. Besides the purchase, there will be interior and exterior improvements, parking enhancements and other costs.  The cost of the project was estimated at 1.9 million in May. The cost of the litigation that has ensued, however, cannot be calculated and was not in that figure.  
       The owner of this property has charged that the taking  was not done properly, so litigation is underway.  And in a separate suit, the owner has claimed that if this piece is taken it will affect the value of the entire strip, so the Township would , in their view, have substantially more to reimburse as their loss is greater than just this small section.  Residents have also raised their voices to protest not just the cost, but also the manner in which this has been done - including the fact that this came up for a vote at a meeting when it was not even on the agenda - so those who might have like to address the issue were not notified to be in attendance. And a third action related to this issue has now been disclosed regarding residents comments that were curtailed as they sought to address this issue for the public record,  for those who watch the meeting, and to their Commissioners.
      Besides the unknown expense,  issues have arisen about  the taking of someone's property when so many others lie vacant, about the building of a Library just a mile away from a premiere facility, about the manner in which the taking  was done and about the fact that even the nearby neighbors remain by-and- large unaware of all the details of the Township's plan or how it will affect them.  Homes  on Avondale, Independence, Lafayette and virtually all the streets behind this property ( and  all the way up to Woodland)  have been under discussion as to a possible zoning change. The minutes of those meetings reflect a desire to zone some of these homes for commercial uses . As of this writing, we have found few  who had any idea these discussions were taking place.  (See the page on zoning rewrites for more info. )  
   The areas in question are along  Easton & Bradfield Roads, particularly between Susquehanna and Woodland.  The Zoning Ordinance Re-write Committee has this area listed as Transition Area 14  in their minutes.  
       Because this is a complicated issue, being notified after all the zoning recommendations are in place does not seem  ideal.  If residents were encouraged to attend the public meetings now , do research, and begin to get up to speed, they might understand enough to have meaningful comment in time to effect change. Neighborhood representatives at these meetings to take the news back to others so they could participate in the shaping of this plan would be an appropriate plan. 

________________________
CHRONOLOGY
11-4-10
Litigation continues - approvals for funds given

9-30-09 A speaker  shared  an example of Eminent Domain as happened in the Coatesville area  that cost millions of dollars in Litigation . He pointed out that besides the premier library just about 1 mile away, that there also were many other buildings that could house a Library & whose owners were not protesting the sale. He urged the Commissioners not to drag everyone into a legal battle . (Which we are already in with multiple lawsuits)  

9-10-09
  Commissioners seem to have taken the prior action to heart and decided to allow the comments of both the Township resident and the Montgomery County resident who asked to speak.

8-13-09  Commissioners were notified at the Board meeting tonight that the below mentioned county resident &  township resident were charging certain of the Commissioners with interfering in their right to public comment . A copy of the documents re: the lawsuit that was filed was offered to them.

8-09 The owner files an additional lawsuit suggesting that taking the portion of the  property devalues the rest of the property owned and that additional compensation should be due.

7-09   The owner of the property has responded to the legal action of the taking and is prepared to fight this action . At a meeting both  an Abington resident and a Montgomery County resident were refused the opportunity to speak.  The Abington resident had already been refused the opportunity to speak at the County level, having been told he should address at the township.  The Montgomery County resident asked to speak because County grant monies were being requested by Abington.  He was denied.

5-26-09 Township Assistant Manager Matt Lahaza went to the County Revitalization Board to request funds. he informed the board of the inadequacy of the library's present location and explained the acquisition of 1180 Easton Rd . He said the Township acquired the building through condemnation and is now waiting for the appeal process to be completed.  Abington Township is applying for a total of $352,192  of the county revitalization funds in 2009 to renovate the exterior of the building and property in three phases.  The cost of the entire project was presented as estimated at 1.9 million. (Phase 1- the acquisition  quoted below at $640,000 does not include the cost of any litigation - which we later learned was filed)  . Phase 2 is exterior wall renovation - $127,154 requested of county funds.   Phase 3 is performance stage and seating . Anticipated completion of this area is December 2009.  $122,998 requested in county funds. And Phase 4  is parking enhancements which include a parking tray along Bradfield Road and additional parking spaces on the lot Bradfield Road.  The Township still needs to acquire a 3 to 4 foot wide strip of land as part of the parking tray not included in the condemnation price.  Anticipated completion of this is May 2010 .  $102,040 is requested in county funds for this.

     Also discussed were other State County Township and federal funds.  An Abington resident in attendance was not allowed to speak, despite the fact that this was not on the Abington agenda, where he was told he should address the matter.

5-14-09 At the Board of Commissioners Meeting - the Eminent Domain Issue on the Easton Rd property in Roslyn being taken against the owner's wishes came up for a vote.  Despite not being on the agenda,  this came up for a vote ---- and the vote passed. We have not yet heard the legal opinion on that process, but I am not sure why residents do not get to be alerted that there is going to be a vote on this issue.  More on this coming - check back .

In addition the cost of the acquisition of the property was presented at the meeting  as $640,000 ----- even though one Commissioner told us  that in Executive session right before the meeting it was discussed that it was VERY UNLIKELY that there was going to be any possibility of getting this property for $640,000  and that the likelihood of  litigation could balloon the costs quite beyond this amount .

Despite it being a larger facility , the manager presented that there would not be any increase in management costs and that the library director had said they would maintain the same staffing levels.  But later it was noted that, of course, the costs alone of the much larger facility, increased HVAC costs, etc. could not possibly make management costs the same - & how could you increase the number of people you serve and add a thriving "community center" without additional costs. Will residents be forced to continue to accept this bad math from Township personnel, without any supervision from the commissioners ?

   BAD MATH  :  These two examples of  "bad math"  from our  township  staff - presenting things to the public that presents only half the picture or a false picture - should not go unnoted by residents watching their government. The tax abatements figures offered 3-08 provided a skewed view  of the actual costs of abatement (forgetting to mention many figures that dramatically affect the bottom line & therefore the actual benefit).   At the end of 2008 we watched our manager in a budget cuts session present lengthy explanations  to a full room of people of what we would save if we cut certain items ........and then tell us that these could not be cut.   Okay...... We also heard in this current Eminent Domain session that there were "low-ball figures" obtained  in prior eminent domain dealings. Who is overseeing these operations?  And why are we tolerating these things & allowing such shenanigans in the operation  of our Township and the handling of our tax dollars?  In the channel 43 dealings - residents comments and suggestions were ignored to end up with  a substantially increased cost in the taping of the meetings. This  is happening again and again right before our eyes.  It is apparently at the ballot box that we look for  elected officials that will oversee the staff they have hired.  But who is choosing the candidates for the elections?

An Eminent Domain question that might cry out for an answer :  If we were able to find this owner for the taking of her property - why were we not looking for her for the past 20 years when we needed to encourage her to do something with the property to benefit the town?  Perhaps management could have more of an effect on improving blighted areas than it currently is accomplishing.

__________________

 

  Our codebook is in 2 parts
Part 1  
 Township's Codebook    except for  zoning
Part 2 Zoning Portion of Township Codebook

or go to http://www.abington.org/info/newcodebook.htm

 

 

 

The Washington Post on Eminent Domain http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/23/AR2005062300783.html?referrer=emailarticle

 




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